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Defending Germany, Defending NATO, Defending Definitions

Jorge Benitez of the Atlantic Council writes in the New Atlanticist about the new NATO, which "is defined by US caveats, French political will, British leadership, German uncertainty, and a tangible level of commitment by some allies."

It's a good article, but I take issue with some of the harsher criticism against Germany, even though I agree that our foreign minister did not handle this issue well. Jorge writes:

Perhaps the most controversial component of the new NATO is Germany. Since World War II, Germany has kept a strong relationship with Paris and Washington, sometimes at the expense of one over the other. But even when exploring better relations with Moscow, Germany has always moved forward with preferably both, but at least one of its main allies. The Libyan crisis has been a painful exception. Berlin now seems to be pursuing a new path, Lostpolitik. How long will Berlin favor unilateral policies or new allies, instead of the allies that helped make Germany whole, prosperous, and free?

Germany's recent actions have had a deep impact on its allies. The US may not say so publicly, but privately, neither Washington nor Paris is certain that Germany can be counted on in times of conflict. At the same time, all across the alliance, voters are becoming more aware that after so many decades of being a consumer of security from NATO, Germany is now reluctant to become a provider of security for its allies. 

Furthermore, Berlin should be ashamed of excuses about coalition politics and electoral distractions. After all, Belgium was able to take its place on the front lines with its allies, even though it has not had a government in over a year.

What new allies? Allies are members of an alliance, which is a big deal. Germany abstained in the Libya vote. Russia, China, India and Brasil happen to have voted the same way, but that does not make these five countries allies. What is indeed shameful, however, is that according to Majid Sattar in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung our foreign minister and his staff made phone calls all night before the UN vote to convince other Security Council members to abstain.

Still, NATO allies don't have to agree on everything, especially when their security is not threatened. As to the question whether Germany can be counted on in times of conflict: Well, Germany will definitely protect any NATO ally, whose security is at stake. Just like NATO protected Germany from a Soviet invasion during the Cold War. Though you cannot count on Germany to participate in humanitarian interventions or any other military mission that is not related to defending a NATO member.

Khaddafi was not a threat to any NATO member, thus it is unfair to criticize Berlin's position on Libya with this reference "after so many decades of being a consumer of security from NATO, Germany is now reluctant to become a provider of security for its allies." Such rhetoric does not work on the younger generation of German politicians anyway.

Since, I have read so many articles with similar argumentation, let's be clear about a couple of definitions:

The Libya mission is a war of choice, not a war of necessity. Perhaps it was right to intervene on humanitarian grounds and to support the Arab spring, but it was not a must and certainly not an issue of alliance security. NATO's greatest responsibility is collective defense.

Our militaries main purpose is defense. I don't get an aneurysm, but my blood pressure still rises, when I read this 1996 Wash Post article: "In his memoirs, Powell recalled that he almost had 'an aneurysm' when Albright challenged him to explain 'What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?'" 

Every mission has to stand the Dover test and its European equivalents. That's common sense, but since humanitarian interventions and peace enforcement are cool again, a general reminder might be necessary. If you want more humanitarian missions, start by changing public perceptions on casualties first. And fix the national deficit. I am with Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who declared: "The single-biggest threat to our national security is our debt."

I am also with James Joyner of the Atlantic Council, who writes in The Atlantic about Perpetual War:

Since the last realist president, George H.W. Bush, left office, two groups- neoconservatives and liberal interventionists-have overtaken American foreign policy. (...)

While neocons are doubtless less patient than liberal interventionists when it comes to exhausting diplomatic options and achieving international consensus, what does it really matter if the end result is the same either way: military action.

Neocons and liberal interventionists may have dominated American foreign policymaking since 1993, but what about the realists? During the Cold War, there was a bipartisan elite consensus against the U.S. involving itself in wars not believed to be directly tied to protecting vital American interests. This included two major hot wars in Korea and Vietnam and more than a dozen quick strikes and proxy conflicts aimed at stopping the spread of Soviet Communism, ranging from Cuba to Afghanistan to El Salvador. And there were a handful of interventions in the Middle East to protect Israel and retaliate for terrorist attacks.

Starting with the 1991 Gulf War, however, despite the end of the Cold War, we've had two decades of non-stop fighting: Somalia in 1992, Haiti in 1994, Bosnia in 1995, Serbia-Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan starting in 2001, and Iraq again from 2003. With Libya, we've added another U.S. war.

I like to think that the realists, who are missing in the United States, are in charge in Germany. Though, that is wishful thinking. Germany does not have a grand strategy. Just gut instincts against foreign policy adventures. Then again, I wonder if Sarkozy and Cameron have a plan for Libya and a grand strategy for their foreign policy...


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John in Michigan, US on :

The rationale for Libya, although controversial, isn't hard to see. In no order: 1) Humanitarian duty 2) Revenge/punishment for decades of exporting terrorism and, lets face it, humiliation (Megrahi) 3) Need to show that it is better to be a Western friend than a Western enemy. If we had given Qaddafi a pass, while abandoning "friends" like Mubarak, people (especially Pakistan?) would wonder what is the point of being friendly towards the West. 4) Need to be seen giving tangible support to the Arab Spring, without being seen as unwelcome interference, and without risking the spread of Iranian influence in e.g. Bahrain. The specific plans to achieve the above objectives in Libya are indeed lacking. Perhaps we will get lucky. I hear the far west of Libya, plus the airport in Misurata, is now under rebel control... The grand strategy is also clear. It is the Bush Democracy Agenda, although for Obama's sake, none dare call it that.

Marie Claude on :

but Libyan rebels, unlike other muslim populations ask us for intervening ! Didn't see that for Irak, nor for afghanistan !

John in Michigan, US on :

Umm... The Iraqi diaspora, Muslims and non-Muslims, was quite active in requesting help. Also, there were defectors, and other groups inside Iraq that were asking. Groups inside and outside of Afghanistan that were asking for help also existed, although they were smaller, less organized, and less able to raise funds.

Marie Claude on :

of course twitter and facebooks weren't operating at these times

Zyme on :

There is a convenient way out in the Libya case: If at some point it became clear to everyone involved that there cannot be a military solution as the fighting does not come to an end - then one country could act as an intermediary and coordinate a new order in the country. Obviously it would have to be a country respected by both sides and not involved in the fighting yet. Now there aren't these many left in Europe. Wouldn't it be great to outdo Sarkozy just one further time :-) Imagine his face, trying so hard to regain influence in Northern Africa, and then failing again :-)

Marie Claude on :

hmm, if you'd thought of Germany for that peace role, I'm not sure that the Rebels would welcome her either ! Besides the Rebels don't want to halt their "advance" Kadhafi has go toofar in repressing his population, none want to discuss with him anymore.

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